HOUSTON (AP) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday awarded a greenhouse gas permit to a Texas plant, the first the federal agency has issued since taking over the Lone Star State's permitting program in January.
The EPA's move is part of an ongoing battle with Texas over environmental regulation, and indicates the agency will move ahead with its plan to conduct business as usual in Texas even if the state refuses to cooperate.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state agency that should be responsible for issuing such permits, said it was pleased the Lower Colorado River Authority's would now be able to move forward.
But "we see no need for — or any environmental benefit from — EPA's greenhouse gas permit," said Andy Saenz, a TCEQ spokesman. "The TCEQ authorized the project on Sept. 1, 2011 after careful review that determined the permit was protective of the environment and fully compliant with all state environmental regulations."
The EPA took over the state's greenhouse gas permitting program after Texas refused to comply with new regulations designed to decrease air pollution believed to contribute to climate change. Texas, the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases and industrial pollution in the nation, was the only state that refused to comply, arguing among other things that the regulations would be too costly for businesses in a weak economy.
That argument is now often heard by Gov. Rick Perry as he campaigns for the GOP presidential nomination. He often targets the EPA and uses it as an example of President Barack Obama's administration meddling in state affairs.
However, the EPA estimated the state's refusal to comply could have impacted some 167 expansion and modernization projects, so the court allowed the federal agency to directly issue permits.
The permit the EPA issued Thursday to the LCRA allows it to modernize and replace a 37-year-old unit with a newer, more efficient natural gas powered system. It will also increase the power generation of the plant in Llano County, Texas just as the state deals with the expanding energy needs of a rapidly expanding population. The new system will also reduce nitrogen oxide emissions and include advanced monitoring of greenhouse gas pollution.
"The new LCRA plant will use improved environmental controls and install modern high efficiency equipment," EPA Regional Administrator Al Armendariz said in a statement. "LCRA is leading the way by providing Texans an efficient and reliable source of clean power."
The EPA said it is reviewing another 10 greenhouse gas permit applications for Texas companies.